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Beauty and the Spy
By Julie Anne Long

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 Beauty and the Spy

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Beauty and the Spy
By Julie Anne Long
ISBN: 0446616869
Genre: Romance

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Chapter Excerpt from: Beauty and the Spy , by Julie Anne Long

Chapter One

May 1820

Susannah Makepeace had a new dress, and Douglas was being particularly charming, and together these two things comprised the whole of her happiness.

She sat with her best friends on a low hillside at her father’s country estate, the young ladies scattered like summer blooms over the grass, the young men sprawling as they plucked tiny daisies to make chains. The day was warm, but a frisky breeze snaked around them, lifting the ribbons of bonnets and fluttering the hems of dresses. Douglas cast a furtive eye toward Susannah’s ankles and she drew them quickly under her skirt with a teasing frown. He winked at her. In two weeks’ time, when he was her husband, Douglas would be privy to the sight of every inch of her. The thought made her heart jig a little.

Like the breeze, their conversation meandered: friends and balls and parties were touched on, laughed about, abandoned, taken up again. It was summer after all, or very nearly, and summer was about gaiety. And they were between London balls. God forbid there should be a lull between entertainments.

“Did you notice how George Percy dances?” Douglas mused. “His arms hang as though they’re inserted on pins, and he rather . . . flails . . . like”—Douglas lurched to his feet—“like this.” He flopped about like a marionette, and everyone laughed.

Behind them, their chaperone Mrs. Dalton tsked in disapproval.

“Oh, come now, Mrs. Dalton, you must admit it’s a little funny,” Douglas cajoled, which earned him a hmmph and a reluctant, tight-lipped smile from the matron, who was the latest in a series of Susannah’s paid companions. She drove her needle back into her sampler, no doubt stitching something meant to be inspiring but that always sounded admonishing instead, such as THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH. Susannah often felt that Mrs. Dalton’s samplers were a silent attempt to rein her in. You’ll have to try harder than that, Mrs. Dalton, Susannah thought cheekily. Susannah Makepeace hadn’t become the belle of the season because she was meek. Nor, for that matter, was meekness the reason Douglas Caswell, heir to a marquis, had proposed to her.

Amelia Henfrey, Susannah’s best friend, clapped her hands together in sudden inspiration. “You’re so funny, Douglas! Now do Mr. Erskine!”

Susannah cast a sharp glance at Amelia, wondering if she was flirting. Amelia had a head full of golden curls and blue eyes very nearly the size of dinner plates, both of which had been the subject of any number of amateur odes this season. She did a surreptitious count of the flounces on Amelia’s dress, and was a little mollified to discover that it featured only one, while her own new dress boasted three.

As for her own eyes—to Susannah’s knowledge, no poems had been written about them. They were hazel, a kaleidoscope of greens and golds that, Douglas had once declared in an ardent moment, “fair dizzied” him. He claimed her eyes had mesmerized him into proposing, that she’d given him no choice in the matter, really. Douglas could be very clever that way, which was part of the reason she loved him.

Amelia, despite the golden curls and limpid eyes, wasn’t engaged to anyone at all. But as they were both heiresses, Susannah silently and magnanimously allowed that Amelia would likely make a match as spectacular as her own.

And besides, Amelia is good, Susannah conceded. She never said an unkind thing, she had a smile for everyone, she never misbehaved. While I am . . .

Not wicked, precisely, she confessed to herself. But not good, either. She charmed and sparkled and said witty things, but she knew very well she was being charming and sparkling and witty while she was doing it, which felt somehow wrong. She was often plagued with an indefinable restlessness, an ache really, that beautiful dresses and nonstop gaiety couldn’t fully assuage. And she frequently secretly suffered from envy and entertained observations that she dared share with no one, since she was certain they would do nothing to add to her popularity.

She had one of those thoughts now: Amelia is dull.

She batted it away. Amelia was her best friend, for heaven’s sake. Susannah reached for her sketchbook and began quickly charcoaling in the stand of trees at the edge of the park in an attempt to distract herself from any more heretical thoughts.

“Erskine?” Douglas was rubbing his chin in thought at Amelia’s suggestion. “The chap who laughs too loud at everything, bends double when he does it?”

“Remember how foxed he was at Pemberton’s ball?” Henry Clayson, one of the sprawling lads, contributed lazily.

“Pemberton’s ball? Was that where I wore my blue satin?” Amelia categorized all of the events in her life by what she wore during them.

“Yes,” Susannah confirmed, because, quite frankly, so did Susannah. “And where I wore the silk with the matching—”

Tell me we aren’t now discussing ball gowns,” Henry Clayson groused.

Susannah playfully tossed a daisy at him. “Let’s discuss horses, then. Have you seen my new mare, Henry?”

Douglas sat down proprietarily next to her, a silent message to Henry Clayson: She might toss daisies at you, but she belongs to me. Susannah smiled to herself.

“Susannah’s father is forever buying her new everything,” Amelia said wistfully. “My father buys one new gown and tells me I’m in grave danger of being spoiled. And my mother never can persuade him to loosen the purse strings.”

And there it was, that unwelcome little tightening in Susannah’s chest: envy. It seemed extraordinary to envy the fact that Amelia’s father refused to buy her things. It was just that . . . well, Susannah’s mother had died so long ago and James Makepeace had left the rearing of his daughter in the hands of governesses and housekeepers and redoubtable matrons like Mrs. Dalton, who were charged with ensuring that Susannah acquired a full complement of ladylike accomplishments. Susannah could play the pianoforte and sing; she could draw and paint better than passably; she could certainly dance; she could sew. And miraculously, she’d escaped becoming too spoiled and willful, primarily because it had always seemed more effort than it was worth to seriously misbehave.

But that was the very root of her envy: though Susannah had grown up in a beautiful house surrounded by beautiful things, she would have traded most of it—well, perhaps not her new mare, but maybe the pianoforte and a few pelisses—if her father had seemed to care even a little about how much she spent on clothing. Or, frankly, about what she did at all. Oh, he’d been pleased enough about her engagement to Douglas, as any sane father would. But he was so seldom home—his antiquities-importing business often took him away—and she rather suspected her father considered her part of the furnishings. He . . . maintained her the way he did the big clock in the library or his best musket. He was as distant and impersonal—and as necessary to her well-being—as the sun.

And so whenever Amelia and Douglas and her other friends spoke of their parents, Susannah felt a tiny clutch of panic. This talk of parents was a language she could never hope to share with them.

All Susannah had of her mother was a fuzzy memory—of being awakened in the middle of the night amidst frantic whispers and movement, of a woman’s dark hair and dark eyes and soothing voice—and one tangible thing—a miniature portrait of a beautiful woman: curls, large pale eyes with a bit of a tilt to them, a soft, generous mouth, cheekbones delicately etched. Susannah’s own face. On the back, written in a neat, swift hand, were the words: FOR SUSANNAH FAITH, HER MOTHER ANNA. The miniature was the only image of her anywhere in the house.

When Susannah was small, she’d wanted to keep the miniature on her night table, but her father had gently asked that she keep it in a drawer, out of sight. Susannah had decided then that her mother’s death had shattered her father’s heart so completely that any reminder of her—including his daughter—pained him.

But just last week she’d found him in her bedroom, holding that miniature in his hand. Susannah’s breath had suspended; the hope had been piercing: perhaps they’d finally speak of her mother . . . perhaps, little by little, her father’s heart would thaw, and they would become close, and then he would complain about how much she spent on pelisses.

But then she noticed he was looking at the back of the miniature. And he’d murmured “Of course.” Not “Alas!” or “Oh, me!”, which would have seemed more appropriate for someone with an irreparably broken heart, but “Of course.” And those two low words had thrummed with a peculiar excitement. They had, in fact, sounded rather like “Eureka!”

James had looked up then, and Susannah watched a startling desolation skip across his features.

“I beg your pardon, my dear.” And with that, he’d drifted out of her room.

Douglas leaned over her now to reach for the sketchbook. The sun had turned the back of his neck golden, and Susannah was sorely tempted to run her finger along the crisply cut line of his dark hair. Soon I can touch every bit of him. She wondered what sort of message Mrs. Dalton would have stitched if she’d known that particular sentiment. But the thought made the tightness in Susannah’s chest ease; surely being the wife of a marquis-to-be would make envy and restlessness a thing of the past.

Douglas suddenly paused his sketchbook-leafing and frowned, shading his eyes with his head. “I say, Susannah, isn’t that your housekeeper coming this way? At rather a fast clip?”

Mrs. Brown, a large woman who typically moved as if every step required careful deliberation, was indeed taking the green so quickly she’d gripped her skirts to free her ankles.

Later Susannah would remember how, little by little, everyone went very still, transfixed, as though the housekeeper’s mission was apparent in her exposed ankles.

And as Mrs. Brown’s grim face came into view, Susannah slowly rose to her feet, her heart beating swiftly and unevenly.

She knew before Mrs. Brown spoke the words.

The earl’s pen continued to fly across the bottom of a sheet of foolscap when Kit appeared in his office doorway. “Good morning, Christopher.” His tone was abstracted. “Please sit down.”

If Kit hadn’t already known the summons from his father meant trouble, the “Christopher” would have confirmed it. He settled resignedly—and a little gingerly, since he’d been out very, very late the night before, and it was very, very early now—into the tall chair situated in front of . . . the prow of his father’s desk. The thought amused him. It was a bloody great ship of a desk, of oak so polished the earl could watch himself at his daily activities: Thinking profound thoughts. Affecting the course of history with signature.

Berating his son.

For the life of him, however, Kit could not come up with a reason for this particular summons.

“Good morning, sir.”

His father looked up then, eyebrows aloft at his son’s formal tone, and then he leaned back in his chair to study Kit, twirling his quill between two fingers. Outside his father’s great office window, London went about its business on foot and horseback, in barges and hack—business his father, who oversaw the budget for intelligence affairs and was often the last word on the assignments of His Majesty’s agents, so often indirectly, secretly influenced.

“Just because you think your superior officer is an idiot, Christopher,” the earl began wearily, “doesn’t mean you should call him one.”

Ah, now he remembered.

“But Father, that idi—”

The earl moved his head in the slightest of shakes, and Kit stopped. Truthfully, though he’d thought “Chisholm is an idiot” any number of times, he’d never said the words aloud . . . until last night, apparently. Which was a bloody miracle, really, since Kit had an innate tendency to frankness that only years of militarily honed discipline had managed to keep in check. And frankly, Chisholm was an idiot.

But he was just as appalled as his father that he’d said the word. It must have been all that ale. Well, that, and the brandy. And . . . hadn’t there been whiskey, too? Fragments of last night were returning to him now, out of sequence, but unfortunately all too clear. He recalled that the evening had begun at White’s with a few fellow agents, his best friend John Carr among them. Naturally they had begun drinking, which they seemed to be doing more and more in the five years since the war had ended. It was boredom, he supposed; Kit had become accustomed to living his life at the fine edge of danger, to subtlety and strategy and purpose; life in the wake of war lacked a certain . . . piquancy.

At some point in the evening, his superior officer Chisholm had appeared at White’s, and then . . .

His father idly tapped his quill against the blotter. Tap, tap, tap. The sound echoed in his head like cannonfire. Kit was tempted to lean over and seize the bloody instrument of torture out of his father’s hand and snap it in two.

“Chisholm is not an idiot, Christopher.”

“Of course not, sir,” Kit agreed.

Mercifully, the tapping stopped. A silence.

“He is an ass,” the earl clarified, finally.

“I stand corrected, sir. I should have cleared the word with you first.”

And now his father was struggling not to smile. He sobered again quickly, however, and resumed studying Kit in a way that made him a little apprehensive. And after ten years in service to his country, after dozens of narrow escapes and heroic successes and employing his astonishing aim more times than he preferred to count, very few people could make Kit Whitelaw, Viscount Grantham and heir to the Earl of Westphall, apprehensive. He thought he’d better speak.

“Sir, I know what I said was inexcusable, and I hope you realize it was uncharacteristic—”

The earl snorted. “‘Uncharacteristic?’ Like the incident with Millview?”

Kit paused. There had been an incident with Millview, hadn’t there? Lord Millview. An incident so . . . objectionable . . . the earl had in fact threatened to reassign Kit to a government post in Egypt as a result of it, a potent threat indeed, given Kit’s passion for London. Kit had questioned Millview’s, er . . . parentage.

“I apologized for that,” Kit said stiffly. “We’d all been drinking, you see, and . . . Well, I apologized for that. And I intend to apologize to Chisholm, too.”

“Don’t you think you’ve been doing rather a lot of apologizing lately, Christopher?”

Kit knew better than to attempt to answer a rhetorical question. His father was about to answer it for him, anyway.

I do,” the earl said. “And you’ve acquired quite a reputation for womanizing, too.”

Have I, really? Part of Kit was impressed. The other part was appalled that he actually had a “reputation,” let alone one with a name.

“Notice, at least, it’s womanizing, sir,” he attempted feebly. “Not womenizing. Just one woman.”

“One woman at a time. And the latest is married.”

“She isn’t!” Kit feigned shock. Though he’d awakened in time for this meeting only because said married countess had been hissing at him to get dressed and leave now, before her husband came home from the bed of his mistress. The countess wasn’t terribly interesting, but she was beautiful, spoiled and difficult, which had made the pursuit, at least, interesting.

The earl ignored this; for some reason, he began marking off a list of sorts with that deuced quill. “You’ve distinguished yourself in battle, Kit. Tap. You saved the life of your commanding officer while you were wounded. Tap. Served bravely and well by all accounts.” Tap.

Kit listened, puzzled. He’d merely been himself on the battlefield and in assignments beyond; none of those things had ever seemed particularly heroic to him.

Ah. Then he grasped his father’s point: You aren’t exactly making me proud lately, Christopher.

Kit redefined heroism then and there as managing not to squirm while waiting for his father to reveal his bloody agenda.

“To the matter at hand. Though you’ve distinguished yourself in many ways, as you know, Kit, in the wake of the war, we’ve less and less call for the sort of work agents do. In fact, I was informed this morning that James Makepeace is dead, and we don’t intend to replace him. So I’ve decided to—”

“James Makepeace is dead?” Nothing like a bit of startling news to burn away the fog of a pleasant debauch. Why Kit had seen James just last—

And suddenly all the little hairs on Kit’s arms rose in portent.

“How did James die, father?” He managed to ask this calmly enough. He suspected he knew the answer.

“Cutthroats. He was robbed; pockets were empty. It’s a shame, and I’m sorry for it. Now, on to the business at hand. As I said, there’s less and less call for the work agents to do, so I’ve decided to send you to—”

“Sir, I think James was murdered because he was pursuing a suspicion about Thaddeus Morley.”

It was a blurt, really. And once the words were out of his mouth, Kit realized how mad they sounded, particularly in the bright daylight of his father’s office, instead of the soft lamp-and-smoke haze of White’s, where James had first told Kit the tale. Certainly the expression on his father’s face confirmed this.

But murder cast the tale in another light altogether.

A week ago, Kit had arrived at White’s to find James Makepeace sitting alone, staring at a glass of whiskey as though wondering what one actually did with a glass of whiskey. The alone part wasn’t unusual; James was often alone. The whiskey, however, struck Kit as odd; James was employed by the Alien Office, and on the occasions Kit had worked with him on matters of foreign intelligence he’d never before seen James take in anything more controversial than tea. In fact, James Makepeace’s most striking characteristic had always seemed . . . well, his striking lack of characteristics, apart, that was, from quiet dignity, rare flashes of dry wit, and an unswerving competence that inspired trust, if not warmth. He owned a town house in London, Kit knew, and a country home; he had a daughter. That was the extent of Kit’s knowledge of the man, but he had long ago decided he’d liked him, partly, he suspected, because James was difficult to know. This intrigued him, and so little else did anymore.

So Kit had wandered over, thinking perhaps if James didn’t plan to drink his whiskey, he’d do the job for him. But when James greeted him with, “Tell me Grantham, what do you know of ‘Christian virtues’?” Kit had, half-jokingly, smoothly turned on his heel and began walking back the way he’d come.

But then James had . . . laughed.

If one could call the bleak little sound he’d made a laugh. Which drew Kit back to him out of perverse curiosity.

“Don’t worry, Grantham, I’m the very last person to lecture someone about morals,” James had said then, which was interesting enough. But then he added, “I’ve a story to share concerning Christian virtues . . . and a certain Mr. Thaddeus Morley.”

And James, who had lived in Barnstable so many years ago like Kit and his family, and knew a little of Kit’s past, knew Kit could no more turn away from a discussion of Thaddeus Morley than a hound could from a hare.

So James had told his story, and Kit had listened, more entertained than convinced. And then John Carr and a few of his other friends had swept Kit away before James could finish his mad tale, but not before Kit could finish James’s whiskey.

His father was grim-faced, displeased at the interruption. “James was pursuing a suspicion about Morley? The Whig MP? What sort of suspicion?”

“It was last week . . . James told me he believed Morley was involved in the murder of Richard Lockwood some years ago. He said . . .” Kit paused, willing the returning fog in his head to move aside so James’s words could return accurately. “He said that Lockwood had been gathering evidence—documents, apparently—proving Morley had sold information to the French to finance his political career. And so Morley arranged to have him murdered.”

For a moment, his father said nothing. And then, like a man slipping into a coat, he donned the expression of exaggerated patience that Kit had known and loathed deeply since he was a child.

“Christopher, you know full well that powerful men provoke jealousy, even myths, and Morley has perhaps drawn more than his share because of his humble beginnings.”

Kit sucked in a long impatient breath. “Sir, James told me that Lockwood hid the evidence incriminating Morley in a place that had something to do with . . . Christian virtues. Some place . . . ‘whimsical.’ That was the word he used—‘whimsical.’ But Lockwood never told James precisely where. And he was murdered before this evidence came to light.”

The earl burned a dark frown into his son. Kit met it levelly.

And then all at once the earl’s face cleared, as though he’d reached some sort of satisfactory conclusion. “Was James drunk when he told you this? Were you drunk?” Fatherly suspicion lit the earl’s face and he leaned forward, forehead furrowed in scrutiny, and gave a sniff. “Are you drunk now? Did you drink your breakfast, Christopher?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, father. No, I did not drink my breakfast.” At the moment, the very idea of food or drink, in fact, made Kit’s stomach lurch beseechingly. “And I’ve never seen James drunk in my life.”

“Hmmph” was the earl’s grunted opinion of James’s alleged sobriety.

“And the very last thing James told me, father,” Kit continued doggedly, “was that he thought he finally knew where to find those documents incriminating Morley. And now he’s dead. That’s two deaths now. Two murders. Both former soldiers, both of whom were ostensibly investigating Morley.”

“Two deaths seventeen years apart, Christopher.” And then the earl slapped two exasperated palms down on his desk, which made Kit’s brain shrivel in pain. One of his eyes rolled up into his head. Shouldn’t have had the bloody whiskey, too. “I fail to see the connection. And James most certainly wasn’t authorized to pursue any sort of suspicion about Morley, if indeed, that’s what he was doing when he was murdered. Furthermore . . .” the earl drawled, “witnesses put Lockwood’s mistress at the scene of his murder, and then his mistress disappeared—never to be seen again. London was in an uproar for months. Sketches of her in the newspapers, a mad search for her all over the country . . .” The earl gestured broadly, illustrating the mad search, perhaps. “. . . and then the whole thing inevitably died away. It’s really a very simple, if somewhat sordid tale, and a testament,” he concluded, in a return to what appeared to be the day’s developing theme, “to the potential danger of mistresses.”

The potential danger of mistresses? Kit was briefly distracted as he considered these. Last night, the countess had been in danger of wearing out his—

“And let me ask you this, son, Why would James Makepeace choose to confide his . . . delusion . . . in you, in particular?”

Bloody hell.

And as Kit knew he couldn’t answer the question without incriminating himself, he remained stubbornly silent.

And finally his father leaned back in his chair and sighed a long-suffering sigh, the sound of confirmed suspicions. “Christopher, just a few days ago, Mr. Morley asked me—very delicately, mind you—whether he’d done something to earn your dislike.”

This was a surprise, and yet not a surprise. “His impressions are unfortunate, father,” Kit said stiffly, “but I can assure you I’ve done nothing to inspire them.”

But Morley, Kit was certain, knew precisely what he’d done. It went back to an evening nearly two decades ago, to a party at his father’s house in Barnstable, to a rivalry between two friends that had almost turned deadly. To a beautiful, reckless young woman. To the first time Kit had met Thaddeus Morley.

And the last time he’d seen Caroline Allston.

A stalemate’s worth of quiet ensued, and a breeze nudged the curtains at his father’s window into a languorous motion that set Kit’s stomach pitching and rolling again. With effort, he kept his eyes focused on his father’s face, rather than closing them, which is what he very much would have preferred to do. So like his own face, the earl’s was, but gentler, its lines more harmonious and pleasing. Handsome, everyone said. His son, with his grandfather’s arrogant arch of a nose and long angular jaw and his mother’s disconcertingly vivid blue eyes, had never been directly accused of being handsome. ‘Unforgettable,’ however, applied.

Or so he’d been told by any number of women. In tones ranging from infuriated . . . to satiated.

“Father,” he tried again quietly, because it simply wasn’t in his nature to surrender, “What motive could James Makepeace have possibly had for telling me such a story? Doesn’t this at least warrant—”

“Christopher.” His father’s voice was terse now. “Leave it.”

“Why?” Kit almost snapped the word. “Because investigating Morley would be awkward for you politically?”

Oh, that was a risky question, and Kit immediately regretted asking it. His throbbing temples were allowing unfortunate words to get through. He seemed to recall champagne now, too. Hadn’t the countess poured some into her navel, and then hadn’t he—

“That should matter to you, son,” the earl said quietly.

Kit fell silent, chastened. His father did deserve his loyalty; his father, in fact, unquestionably had his loyalty. And he knew he could never fully explain to his feelings about Morley to his father. Just as he would ever have the words to explain Caroline Allston.

“Well then,” his father said crisply. “We’ve wasted enough time with this nonsense. To the business at hand, Christopher, in light of recent events, I’ve decided to send you to Egypt, as we previously discussed.”

Kit’s lungs froze. He parted his lips a little; nothing emerged.

His father stared back at him with a sort of detached interest. A scientist, awaiting the results of an experiment.

“You’ve . . .” Kit finally croaked. The rest was too horrible to repeat.

“. . . decided to send you to Egypt?” his father completed gently. “Yes. Today. A ship leaves in two hours. I’ve arranged for your trunks to be packed.”

Kit had lost use of all of his faculties. His limbs had turned to marble. He certainly couldn’t form a sentence. He stared at his father, waiting for shock to ebb so he could strategize.

The earl was still watching his son, but his face had gone steadily more pensive.

“Or . . .” his father mused.

Kit clung to that ‘or’ the way a sailor clings to the splintered mast of a wrecked ship. He waited. He tried a bit of a smile, as though nothing had ever mattered to him less than what his father was about to say next.

“. . . you may repair to Barnstable immediately to work on your folio.”

The smile vanished. “My what?”

“Your folio. Your nature folio.” Said with deceptive innocence. “Like the work undertaken by the recently departed Mr. Joseph Banks. There’s a recognized need now to document the flora and fauna in the English countryside, and the Barnstable region has heretofore been neglected. We’ve been looking for just the man to do it, and I think that man is you. You will take notes, make sketches. And you’ll live at The Roses while you do it. It was your mother’s favorite of our homes, as you recall, and it’s been all but neglected in recent years.”

Had his father just suffered a stroke? “Banks was a naturalist,” Kit explained slowly. “I’m a spy.

“Yes, well, that’s what you became after you shot your friend over that wild girl years ago and I packed you off into the military—”

“It was a duel,” Kit muttered. “I was seventeen.

“—but when you were a very young boy, Christopher, you wanted to be a naturalist.”

Kit couldn’t believe his ears. “Yes. For about five minutes.

But the earl appeared to have drifted into some kind of reverie. “Don’t you remember? Up trees, following squirrels and deer, bringing home snakes, nests, things of that sort. Always observing. Swimming at the pond. Making little sketches. Your mother thought it was adorable. And wasn’t there a rare mouse in the region?”

“Vole. There’s a rare vole in the region,” Kit said testily.

“You see? You know all about it.” The earl said delightedly, as if this proved his point.

All at once, with a sinking feeling, Kit comprehended. “Ah,” he said flatly. “I see. I’m to be exiled regardless.”

The earl gave him a smile that managed to be sunny and evil all at once. “Now you’re catching on.”

“You can’t . . . exile me simply because I called a man an idiot.”

His father regarded him in placid silence.

“Or for calling a man . . . a bastard.”

Serene as a lake, his father’s silence.

“Or for . . . womanizing?” Kit faltered.

“Oh, I can,” the earl disagreed cheerfully. “For all of them. I warned you once before, Christopher. You now have two choices: you may travel to Barnstable and begin work on the folio, or you can leave for Egypt. Choose.”

His father, Kit realized, was deadly serious. And when his father was deadly serious, no amount of reasoning could penetrate his resolve, which was how Kit had found himself installed in a military academy with head-spinning speed after his duel so many years ago. Kit stared at the earl, and his mind’s eyes drew him a painfully vivid picture of the hard-won countess, and all of the myriad, glorious pleasures and comforts of the ton, shrinking inexorably from view as his ship drifted from English shores.

And as for Barnstable and The Roses . . . well, Barnstable was just a few hours’ hard ride from London, but it might as well have been Egypt, simply because it wasn’t London.

“You need me here. I’m the best agent the crown has.”

He was absurdly gratified when his father didn’t disagree with this patently unprovable statement. But he also didn’t relent.

“Egypt or Barnstable, Christopher. And if you choose Barnstable, I want you to make a thorough job of that folio. Every plant, every creature . . . I want them carefully, lovingly documented. You have one month in which to accomplish it, after which we shall review your continuance in his Majesty’s Secret Service. If I hear of you womanizing, if I hear of you doing anything other than working on your assignment, if I see you in London during that time, if I hear of you being anywhere near London . . . I will personally escort you on to a ship bound for Egypt where you will then take up a quiet little government post. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence fell like a gavel.

Kit decided he could at least do this with a little dignity. “I choose Barnstable,” he said quietly.

“Good. I should miss you if you went to Egypt.”

And then his bloody father actually smiled.

Kit would not be softened by fatherly expressions of affection. “If I complete the assignment to your satisfaction before a month is over?”

“You may return,” his father said placidly. “If you’re confident you’ve completed it to my satisfaction. You can take a day to prepare for your journey. And now, you may go.”

Kit pushed back his chair and stood—all gingerly, of course.

“And son . . .” his father’s voice was idle in a way that told Kit his next words were in no way meant idly. “I don’t need to tell you again to leave the issue of Morley alone, do I?”

His father knew him too well. “Of course not, sir. I thought it was understood.”

“You always were a clever boy, Christopher.”

Excerpted from Beauty and the Spy , by Julie Anne Long . Copyright (c) 2006 by Julie Anne Long . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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